A couple of weeks ago we presented a project proposal in front of a local historic preservation review board. While we waited for our case to be heard, we listened to another applicant request demolition of a historic garage within a local and National Register-listed residential historic district. As we listened to their presentation, viewed the photos, I thought, “They have no case. The garage has only minor rot and isn’t very altered by renovations. There’s no reason to demolish the building.” Much to my surprise though, the board agreed to the demolition with very little discussion.
Outbuildings, such as sheds, garages and accessory cottages are often overlooked in historic neighborhoods since they are relegated to backyards and tend to have simple designs and small scale. However, outbuildings are a significant portion of the historic fabric of many older neighborhoods, adding a visible layer to the history of neighborhood development. Garages located on historic alleys tell the story of automobile suburbs in the 1920s; early cottages reflect the use of live-in help; and barns and storage sheds were often built for agricultural or home business uses.
Outbuildings are often visible from alleys and side streets and their loss is noticeable in the reduced density on individual building lots and the loss of original historic fabric in the neighborhood. In addition, outbuildings often have few alterations compared to the main house on the site, giving a more accurate view of the original historic character of the property. Due to their small size and simple structural system, outbuildings are often very easy and affordable to repair and can be adapted to serve a variety of purposes from storage sheds to home offices. Unsympathetic alterations, such as installation of modern overhead garage doors, can generally be reversed, allowing the outbuildings to add charm and character to the historic property. If you have questions about repairing or restoring a historic outbuilding on your property please feel free to contact Historic Shed.